Mike D'Antoni: Pace 'will be up'

Updated: October 22, 2013, 12:54 AM ET
By Dave McMenamin | ESPNLosAngeles.com

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- When Mike D'Antoni took over as the Los Angeles Lakers' coach, he vowed to return the team to its "Showtime" roots with a high-scoring brand of basketball.

"I told the team if we're not averaging 110 to 115 points a game, we need to talk," D'Antoni said at his introductory news conference in November 2012. "That's our goal. It should be easily done."

A season later, he is pumping the brakes on his team's expected pace.

[+] EnlargeMike D'Antoni
Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty ImagesAfter averaging 102.2 points per game last season, Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni wants a little bit more.

"I was on drugs back then," D'Antoni said with a laugh after practice Monday, recalling how he was still on pain medication following reconstructive knee surgery at the time. "My knee was hurting. Vicodin was killing me."

Not that D'Antoni is planning on slowing his team completely. He just wants to adjust the expectation for a team that still averaged 96.8 possessions per game (tied for fourth) and averaged 102.2 points (tied for sixth) last season.

"It will be up," D'Antoni said of the pace. "It won't be crazy, but we want to push it. It will be a nice pace. We want to get some easy buckets before the defense sets up. So we'll be up in the top five in pace, that's normal, but it won't be breakneck speed. It will be good enough where everybody can catch up. We were third last year so it will be more or less like last year."

The tempo of play that the Lakers settled into in the second half of last season certainly worked. They finished 28-12 in their final 40 games.

"We had a good pace, and it was the right pace," D'Antoni said. "Not too fast, not too slow. The biggest thing is we closed out games last year with good defense and guys getting the ball in the right spots. So we'll do that. We'll try to do that this year."

Steve Nash, who teamed with D'Antoni in Phoenix to run the coach's up-tempo style at peak efficiency, said that last season's Lakers weren't an accurate reflection of a D'Antoni team.

"We never really played Mike's offense last year," Nash said. "I think we had a pretty high talent level and were able to find ways to win games, but we never really found an identity, especially with Mike's offense, in my opinion."

L.A. has averaged 92 points per game through its first six preseason games, while giving up 99.8 points per game to their opponents. They have attempted 82.8 shots per game in those exhibition games, slightly ahead of the 80.9 shots per game they averaged last year during the regular season.

Of course, the Lakers' personnel has had something to do with that. Dwight Howard is now on the Houston Rockets. Kobe Bryant has yet to play a game as he continues to rehabilitate his Achilles, and the Lakers have loaded up their lineup with young, athletic players such as Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Jordan Farmar.

"I think we have to utilize their speed and their athleticism but not too much," Pau Gasol said. "Not too much faster than we did last year, because I think we still have to play somewhat of a controlled pace and a pace that everybody is comfortable with and go from there."

D'Antoni said he plans to play Johnson extended minutes in the frontcourt in the Lakers' preseason game against the Utah Jazz on Tuesday. Chris Kaman had been starting alongside Gasol while Johnson was nursing a left foot injury, but Kaman is listed as doubtful for the Utah game after missing L.A.'s past two practices because of gastroenteritis.

"It's going to give us a look [at Johnson]," D'Antoni said before classifying the four-year veteran as a "quick 4" rather than a more traditional stretch 4 in his system.

Nash was asked if D'Antoni learned anything from his initial scoring goals for the team last season.

"I think he learned that it wasn't the personnel, maybe we didn't have the makeup for that type of play," Nash said. "We didn't have maybe the shooting or athleticism last year."

As for this year?

"There's a pace and it's a continual pace," Nash said. "It doesn't have to be a thing of great speed, but just of a continual pace and more quick decisions and quick thoughts."

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